Archive for Monday, April 20, 2015

International tragedy led to lasting local legacy for Boy Scouts

April 20, 2015

Over the decades, several thousand young men have enjoyed a variety of adventures and learning experiences at Camp Naish. The ideals they learned were embodied in the life of the man for whom the camp is named, Theodore Naish.

On May 7, 1915, Naish and more than 1,200 other innocent men, women and children died in one of the senseless acts of World War I. A German submarine sent a torpedo tearing into the side of the Lusitania, a British ocean liner, off the coast of Ireland. Many believe that act of savagery changed the course of World War I and would ultimately bring the United States into the conflict.

The story of the last days of the Lusitania, a British luxury ship, is chronicled in a great new book, “Dead Wake, The Last Crossing of the Lusitania” by Erik Larsen. Naish and his wife, Belle, are mentioned several times in the text.

Naish was born on Jan. 21, 1856, in England and came to the United States in 1886. He settled in Kansas City and worked as a draftsman. Obviously he was an ambitious and probably frugal young man. He was able to earn a degree in engineering from the University of Kansas.

Naish, while never a Boy Scout, was a living example of the organization’s ideals. He was a true outdoorsman who spent his free time hiking in the hills around Edwardsville. Apparently he fell in love with the terrain and purchased some land in the area around the turn of the century.

According to a couple of websites, he accidentally became acquainted with the pastor of the Edwardsville Methodist Church. It seems he was tired after one of his long treks and took a nap in a hammock owned by the pastor.

This friendship led to Naish becoming active in the Methodist Church. He served as a Sunday school teacher, lay minister and other leadership roles. In 1911 at age 51 he married a retired school teacher, Belle Starr. Apparently she enjoyed the outdoors as much as Theodore and, according to an item in the “Edwardsville news column,” they would walk from their home to Edwardsville and return on the electric railroad.

They decided to take a belated honeymoon to England even though World War I was raging. They booked second class passage on the Lusitania, an English luxury liner, which sailed on May 1, 1915. Apparently, Theodore felt safe about the Lusitania, which was called the “greyhound of the seas” because of its extreme speed. Most felt it could easily outrun a submarine. You see, the Imperial German government had unleashed submarine warfare on all ships flying a flag of a belligerent nation.

The fatal encounter took place just a day short of their destination when a submarine unleashed a torpedo, which struck the Lusitania. Shortly afterwards there was a second explosion, and the huge ship slipped below the waves within 15 minutes. One website credited Theodore with being a hero and staying below deck to help persons with their lifejackets. Belle Naish survived the tragedy, but Theodore’s body was never identified.

Still today, many rumors swirl around the tragedy. The United States lost many citizens but didn’t enter the war until April 1917, nearly two years later. I checked The Chieftain’s issues for May 1915 and there was no mention of Naish’s death.

Yet, something wonderful came from his tragic death. In 1926, Belle donated the first of two tracts of land to the Boy Scouts as a fitting tribute to Theodore’s life.

Certainly Camp Naish is a wonderful symbol of the life of a man who epitomized all that Scouting teaches. From a horrible tragedy rose a triumph that has meant a lot to thousands of lives.


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